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Anthology

Realms of the Dragons vol.1

Contents

Soulbound — Paul S. Kemp

First Flight — Edward Bolme

Gorlist's Dragon — Elaine Cunningham

The Keeper of Secrets — Ed Greenwood

The Topaz Dragon — Jess Lebow

Wickless in the Nether — R. A. Salvatore

Serpestrillvyth — Richard Baker

Waylaid — Thomas M. Reid

Standard Delving Procedure — Lisa Smedman

An Icy Heart — Voronica Whitney-Robinson

Penitential Rites — Keith Francis Strohm

How sharper than a serpent' tooth — Dave Gross

Beer with a fat dragon — Don Bassingthwaite

The prisoner of hulburg — Richard Lee Byers

SOULBOUND

Paul S. Kemp

The Year of False Hopes (-646 DR)

Avnon Des the Seer, First Demarch of the Conclave of the Hall of Shadows, awakened from his vision. Something was amiss. He opened his eyes to the darkness of his meditation cell and listened.

Silence. Unusual silence.

The air felt changed. The shadows in the cell appeared more substantive, almost viscous. Pressure made his ears ache, made his head feel thick.

He rose from his prayer mat, pensive, uncertain, and walked to the narrow wooden door of the cell. He lifted the cold metal latch and pushed the door open.

Darkness in the apse beyond, broken only by two wan candles burning atop the square block of an altar. All appeared in order, yet….

The main double doors to the temple stood open and dark. It was midday, yet he could see no light beyond the doors. He could hear no sounds from the city streets outside.

What was happening?

Barely daring to breathe, and with a sense of foreboding heavy enough to bow his shoulders, he moved toward the temple's doors. Some of his fellow demarchs emerged from their meditation cells, others from the doors behind the altar that led into the sanctum.

All shared the same confused look; all muttered the same confused questions.

Like wraiths, they walked toward the doors. They seemed content to let Avnon lead, and he reached them first. He looked out and could not control a gasp.

There was no city beyond the doors, no streets, no carts, no horses, only plains of tall, black grass waving in a soft breeze.

His heart thumped in his chest. His brethren came up behind him, around him, and their gasps echoed his own.

His legs felt leaden, but he walked through the doors and onto the black-veined marble porch immediately beyond them. He was having trouble finding breath; it was as though the air was too thick to inhale.

All around him was dark, shadows, and gloom.

In his mind, a voice-his voice-kept repeating, 'I did not foresee this. I did not foresee this…'

He looked up into the sky and saw no sun, no stars, no twin moons, only black splotches of clouds backlit by some sourceless, sickening ochre light.

'Kesson Rel has stolen the sky,' he breathed.

Kesson Rel, the first Chosen of the Shadow God, stood in ankle-deep water and waited for the dragon to show itself. Protective magic sheathed his body, warding him from both physical attack and the dragon's life- draining black breath. Another dweomer allowed him to speak to and understand the dragon in any language the creature might use.

The perpetual dimness of the Shadow Deep did not limit his vision. The swamp stretched in all directions as far as he could see. Flies and bloodsucking insects thronged the air; huge bats wheeled in the sky above. Steaming pools stood here and there, leaking the stink of organic decay. Stands of droopy leafed trees sat forlornly at the edge of the pools.

And roofing it all was the black, starless sky of the Shadow Deep.

Kesson enjoyed the gloom of the place. The Deep felt like home to him. He knew it would eventually drink the life from most mortals. His former fellow demarchs of the Hall of Shadows soon would learn that lesson. They still did not realize fully what he had done, what he planned.

Perhaps Avnon Des foresaw his end? The thought brought a smile to Kesson's face. He-

The insects vanished in a blink. The sounds of the swamp fell silent. Stillness reigned.

The shadow dragon, Furlinastis, was approaching.

Kesson scanned the sky, looking for the tell-tale cloud of darkness that cloaked the dragon. He saw nothing but the thin, black clouds, backlit by the dim, ochre light of the plane.

A sound behind him, a whisper of movement. He whirled, the beginnings of a spell on his lips.

Too late.

The dragon leaped toward him, filling his field of vision with a cloud of shadows, scales, and claws. He had only a moment to marvel at the ability of the creature, as large as a temple, to move in near silence.

The dragon's hind claws hit him with the force of a trebuchet shot, wrapped him in their dark grip, and drove him flat on his back underwater. If his magic had not warded him, all of his ribs would have been shattered under the wyrm's crushing weight. 'Even with the magic, the beast's claws managed to score his skin, to squeeze the breath from his lungs. If he didn't act quickly, he would be drowned.

Looking up through the lens of the dark water, he could make out no details. The mammoth form of the dragon looked like a wall of black.

'I smell the protective magic on you, human,' the dragon said, and its whispery voice was audible even through the shallow water. 'Let us see if it can fill your lungs.'

The dragon ground him farther into the mud, farther under the water.

Kesson fought down the instinctive rise of panic that threatened to overwhelm him and gathered his thoughts. As always, he had prepared in his mind several spells that he could activate without words, without components, with only his will.

While his body strained for breath, he triggered with his mind a spell that would move him from one location to another in a blink. When the spell took effect, he vanished from underneath the dragon and reappeared, wet, muddy, and out of breath, in the shadows of a copse of trees perhaps a stone's throw behind the reptile. With an exercise of will, he pulled the shadows more closely to him, cloaking himself in a darkness that not even the

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